So the die is cast. With the passage of the EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill sailing through Parliament, the triggering of Article 50 is now only weeks away. Some commentators talk of other Parliaments abroad merely being a rubber stamp. Well, with the passage of the UK Government of Theresa May’s Brexit Bill, un-amended and with only a couple of weeks debate, the same could be said of the supposed «Mother of All Parliaments».
Yet, just as Mrs. May in typically Tory arrogant pig headed fashion rammed through the Bill at Westminster which will set in motion the most perilous of courses the UK has embarked on in centuries, without countenancing any amendments, a bombshell was exploded further north in the form of Scotland’s canny First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The UK will indeed leave the EU – and perhaps come crashing out in dramatic fashion with no deal concluded with the rest of the EU thus reverting to the disastrous position of WTO tariffs, regulations and rules – but there may very well be no United Kingdom left to enjoy the so-called sunny uplands of post-Brexit British Empire lite.
Nicola Sturgeon must be commended for her strength and statesman like leadership. Unlike the intolerably arrogant lightweight Mrs. May (who clearly does not understand the forces she is grappling with) Mrs. Sturgeon has attempted to find consensus and avoid a potentially calamitous Hard Brexit by exploring proposals for retaining Single Market membership, demonstrating real and responsible strategic leadership.
Mrs. May could learn a lot from Mrs. Sturgeon. Yet, Mrs. May’s crude and primitive Hard Brexit speech in January put paid to the commendable consensus seeking efforts of Nicola Sturgeon. So much for the empty promise of May to listen and consult with the devolved administrations of the UK.
Brexit has revealed some fundamental truths regarding the so-called United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Firstly, it is not a natural, organic country, rather an artificial construct born out of English imperialism and largely dictated by London. This does not surprise me.
Nobody in England, apart from the political, media, academic and certain sections of the business elite actually ever speak of the country using its full and correct title of the United Kingdom, not even Britain.
They refer to the whole country simply as England. In all my time living in England I very rarely have ever heard regular people use the term the UK or Britain. England is used as shorthand to refer to the country as a whole, as if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were merely English appendages at best, or at worst don’t even exist.
Very few people in England ever describe themselves as British. Rather, English. Very few people in England even know that Northern Ireland was created by the London Government through partition just as Whitehall created Pakistan through partitioning India and very few realise Northern Ireland is actually part of the United Kingdom and that there exists a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
There has always existed a some what quasi second-class status for British citizens born in and living in the Celtic fringes of the UK. Despite the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and uses the pound sterling for some strange reason it has always been a battle to get shops and businesses to accept Northern Irish bank notes in Britain, despite the fact it states on such notes that they are pound sterling and thus presumably legal valid tender anywhere in the UK.
Train ticket machines in airports such as Stansted are rigged to not accept Northern Irish pound sterling notes.
Other little anecdotal pieces of trivia which reveal a larger picture and reinforce this sense of second class status among the various constituent parts of the United Kingdom are matters such as in sport which should be an activity of national unity.
There is no United Kingdom football team, rugby team, cricket team etc. When it comes to the Olympics it is always Team GB which at least takes account of England, Scotland and Wales but technically leaves out Northern Ireland.
Much of Scotland’s North Sea oil was invested in the South of England and frittered away by Tory Governments during the 1980s to finance the social price of hyper unemployment brought about by the reckless and callous voodoo monetarist economic policies of the Thatcher Government.
Likewise a Conservative Government in the 1980s with little democratic representation in Scotland decided to trial run the community charge or Poll Tax in Scotland before introducing it in England against the overwhelming wishes of the people who actually lived there.
Culturally, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish are very different from the English, indeed the Northern English and Southern English are also very different from each other. For such a small island it is a very polarized place with a mind boggling array of wildly varying regional accents and dialects.
It would seem that the decision of a majority of English voters as opposed to Scottish and Northern Irish voters to drag the whole country, the United Kingdom, with an overall national majority of less than 4% out of the European Union may be finally a step and an insult too far for the Celtic regions of the UK which feel a stronger sense of common European identity than it would appear many people in England do.
Scotland now seems set for another Independence Referendum and this time the vote could very well go the way of the SNP while in Northern Ireland for the first time since the Government of Lloyd George created it there is no longer a unionist majority after the recent Stormont election.
As if Brexit and the constitutional crises it has thrown up were not bad enough we have a UK Prime Minister and Downing Street team completely inadequate for the occasion who are making matters worse. May had better be careful as her own political position within her party may become unsustainable due to this way of governing.
Her summer 2016 Cabinet reshuffle made Harold Macmillan’s 1962 Night of the Long Knives look like a tea party and has created a lot of bitterness in certain quarters not least among the former Chancellor George Osborne and his network of allies. Her excessively harsh and brutal treatment of fellow Conservatives when she formed her first Government stood in stark contrast to the wise Government making of Mrs. Thatcher’s first 1979 Cabinet and revealed a surprisingly thin skinned, petty, spiteful vindictiveness.
The immature, intellectually insubstantial and bitchy former Football Journalist cum political apparatchik Joint-Chief of Staff Fiona Hill personifies this ridiculously juvenile and ignorant attitude and mind-set, while her other Joint-Chief of Staff the MI5 mouthpiece and Sinophobic Nick Timothy represents the unsophisticated and closed/small minded provincialism and prejudice of Mrs. May’s thinking undoubtedly heavily influenced by the backwards and sinister attitudes of the security service she once was ultimately head of as Home Secretary.
This pathetic and callous behaviour, revealed in her short sighted Cabinet re-shuffle of July 2016; the appallingly vulgar and crass manner in which the delay to the finalization of Hinkley Point C was implemented:
the «cheap rhetoric» of herself and her Ministers criticized by Sir John Major towards the EU; the disgusting treatment of a brilliant and far superior politician in the form of elder Statesman Lord Heseltine for voting with his conscience;
her imperialistic hubris towards the devolved administrations of Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and her brazen breaking of empty Tory manifesto promises such as the hike in self-employed National Insurance contributions which jars with her pledge to help struggling families are generating a lot of resentment and bitterness both within her party and abroad in EU capitals and further a field.
Mrs. May could find herself heading for one almighty humiliation at the hands of an internal or external power sooner than she and her team realise. What goes around, always, inevitably comes back around.
As one MP pointed out to me recently, May is becoming increasingly disliked by a large section of her back-benches. She has no democratic mandate of her own as Prime Minister and therefore should tread more carefully, despite what here to today and gone tomorrow, increasingly inaccurate and unreliable «opinion polls» say. Thankfully, there are strong and responsible visionary political leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Heseltine who are willing to stand up and challenge her.
The irony of ironies in this self-induced Brexit shambles is that even though Mrs. May talks about the preciousness of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she and her Brexiteer allies are taking Britain down a path which could achieve what anti-UK forces such as the Nazis and the IRA failed to achieve, that is the destruction of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Will leaving the EU, it’s Single Market and pursuing a Hard Brexit for short term and short sighted political gain really all be worth destroying the United Kingdom?
MATTHEW JAMISON | SCF